On Sunday, though, Mnuchin squandered the opportunity.
Appearing on ABC News’s “This Week,” Mnuchin was asked about Trump’s error-laden prime-time address on Wednesday night. The treasury secretary maintained Trump hadn’t actually messed up.
“I don’t think he got things wrong at all,” Mnuchin said.
When host Jonathan Karl noted Trump had most definitely and wrongly said trade and cargo would be halted between the United States and Europe, Mnuchin doubled down.
“We were very clear that people misinterpreted the comment on cargo, and we immediately put out a statement to clarify that,” Mnuchin said.
.@jonkarl: How does President Trump get things wrong about his own proposals?— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) March 15, 2020
Secretary Mnuchin: “I don’t think he got things wrong at all.”
Karl: “Cargo is not banned.”
Mnuchin: “We were very clear that people misinterpreted the comment on cargo.” https://t.co/XkLFkSaaAp pic.twitter.com/GMS4Kv4m56
That is not at all what happened.
In his address, Trump said, “These prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo but various other things as we get approval.”
The administration did indeed correct itself very quickly to say that trade would not be halted. The Wall Street Journal reported that drafts of Trump’s script had said the prohibitions “will not apply” to trade and cargo, rather than they “will not only apply,” and he just misread it. To pretend this was simply the fault of people misinterpreting Trump is absurd. He clearly said the prohibitions would apply to trade and cargo.
But that wasn’t even the only thing he got wrong.
As The Washington Post’s Fact Checker reported, Trump was also wrong when he said, “To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.” In fact, at that point, the ban was limited to the Schengen Area, the European Union’s border-free travel zone. The ban also didn’t apply to American citizens. Trump did later mention that the United Kingdom and U.S. citizens would be exempted, but he failed to mention that other European countries (like Ireland, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania) wouldn’t be part of the ban. Starting by saying that “all travel from Europe” would be suspended is plainly false.
Trump was also wrong when he said health industry leaders “have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments.” In fact, insurance companies merely waived co-pays for coronavirus testing, not for treatment.
Mnuchin maintains it’s our fault for reading the president’s words literally.
This is a familiar exercise within the Trump administration. Trump says something false, and the people around him are forced to account for it. But because admitting the boss was wrong is for some reason just not an option, they double down and torch their own credibility in the process.
But if people like Mnuchin can’t be honest about Trump getting some very important things wrong in an address about a pandemic, what can we trust them to be honest about? This may seem like a small point, but this is a tremendously important moment in which to have confidence in our leaders.